I remember when I was very young, an aunt taught me that, right around the time of sunrise or sunset, when you feel a mild breeze, you know that angels are passing by and kissing you with a breeze.
On many sunsets or sunrises, in different parts of the world, I have felt touched by a cool breeze. Every time, I think about how or what angels look like.
This morning, I received a phone call that one of the most inspirational and helpful people of my life, who I addressed as Chacha (Paternal uncle), had passed away. He was a real angel in my life; not just during sunrise or sunset. His presence affected my entire life. He wasn’t a relative – as we define conventionally; he was much more than that.
I remember the first time I met him and his family, in 1976, he snapped color photos of our family (still quite a rare thing in mid 70s Bangladesh). He was kind, gentle, intelligent and genuine; someone, I instantly knew who was worth emulating. Someone, one can instantly trust.
Over time, I realized that my father had tremendous respect for this man. His commentary was always discussed at our dining table during family dinners. On the day my father died, Chacha had called in the morning and talked to my dad and advised him of my admission to (my father’s alma mater), University of Missouri. When I arrived in the US as a student, he was my financial sponsor. But he was a lot more than that. He was my moral compass.
I learned from him that my father had followed him to the Oklahoma State University and they were roommates there in the late 1950s. Over time, you develop such friendships that last a lifetime. The future of our family became intertwined with theirs for over 60 years.
Every Eid day, for the last 26 years, his voice echoed on my phone, saying “Eid Mubarak!” Always positive, always upbeat – yet giving his thoughts with the generosity of a father and watching us from a distance, grow up from post adolescence to citizens of this society.
Last year, I saw him last, at his home in Iowa; we talked till late at night and I remember his smiling face as he waved me farewell. Wherever he is today, I wish his soul rests in peace and he remains in the best of our prayers.
Having lost my dad at an early age, I have sought advice, solace, consolation or opinion from people who have appeared in my path from different vantage points. It may have been a professor at a college, a foreign student advisor, or someone I met at a deshi dinner-party, who, over time, become an informal advisor for life choices. Abdullah Chacha’s passing makes me realize, as we step into our mid-40s, the time has come, for all those we count on as moral compasses, to fade away, one by one.
I dread the day I will hear about other influences in my life who no longer maybe there in a few years. Where will I go for advice? Who will I turn to, when I am in quandary? Who will watch my back, when I make a mistake?
One of the many difficulties of immigration to a foreign land is that we are typically disconnected from our extended families, where hosts of uncles and aunts watch your back, and maybe provide you with solace, when things are difficult.
Maybe that’s what this life journey is meant to be; as we age, on sunrise and sunset, we get too busy, and don’t feel that breeze any more. Angels stop passing by us or worse, stop kissing us on the forehead, when we really need a good wish.
In a few hours, when my plane lands in Denver, I will take a walk outside, around the time of sunset and see, if I can still feel that wonderful breeze that Abdullah Chacha touched my life with, for most of my adult life.
I am not ready to give up on my angels, yet.